As of the 2018-2019 school year, SLA has made a major shift in its freshman programming and its relationship with The Franklin Institute.
When SLA first opened in 2006, the museum was a major partner of the school — as indicated by the prominent sign expressing their partnership with the Franklin Institute.
Before the school opened, Principal Chris Lehmann worked closely with the Franklin’s staff and board to be able to live out the vision he had for the school.
“In the planning year of the school, my office was actually in the Franklin Institute,” he explained.
For the past ten years, Freshman attended STEM-related mini-courses at the Franklin Institute on Wednesday afternoons. The goal was for incoming students to have an experiential learning process when transitioning into a high school setting.
“We wanted to give the freshman hands-on learning experiences outside of the school environment, and being able to use the Franklin as our partners was a great opportunity to do so because they had so many valuable resources at their fingertips,” Counselor Zoe Siswick explained.
However, in the past few years, the financial situation of the museum changed. The Franklin Institute went through a new strategic plan in the year 2016 with the new CEO, Larry Dubinski, changing their focus on youth programming including where SLA fits into the plans. One result of these changes is that the Franklin decided to end the Wednesdays at the Franklin program.
“SLA was no longer a priority to spend the amount of money the partnership cost them,” Siswick continued.
There became new priorities on the part of both organizations.
2018 marks the first year that SLA does not continue with the mini-courses that are usually organized at the Institute. Instead, newly designed mini-courses are located in the SLA building, a setup pioneered by SLA Beeber.
“What this allowed us to do was take a much more active role in the programming the mini-courses for the [current] freshman class,” Lehmann stated.
“The feedback we are getting from the freshmen is that the excitement about them is still very high even months into the school year.”
“I like having it at SLA because I don’t have to go anywhere and because there are many options for mini-courses,” said Freshman Rebecca Cassel-Siskind, who is currently enrolled in the debate mini-course. Other courses include African Culture, Mental Health Issues, and Philosophy.
The mini-courses held at the Franklin had a mix of opinions when it came to student feedback. The end of that program gave SLA staff, including Jeremy Spry, the opportunity to get involved with the students more based on their feedback and design plans around their interests more tightly. On top of that, it is much more convenient for students to access having them take place in the same building.
“Some kids really loved it, others didn’t, and that is one of the issues with the amount of energy the Institute put into making them happen for so many years,” Lehmann continued. “Some pieces were successful, whereas others weren’t as successful as we liked.”
Some upperclassmen were clear that they consider the new mini-courses an upgrade.
“I didn’t like it at all, I thought that the TFI mini-courses could have been a lot more engaging and it was just something I just did for the grade, not because I was looking forward to it,” Senior Alexandria Rivera said. , “When Sophomore year hit, my classmates and I were so relieved that it was over.”
Using the feedback from past projects, the new mini-courses are designed so that the teachers worry less about content and more about their ability by managing the program, to help the instructors design something aligned with the SLA plan.
The partnership with The Franklin Institute is still continuing in other ways.
Student memberships are still valid, there are opportunities for SLA to take part in the Franklin’s Award Week events, and the programming for students through STEM Scholars is still available.